December 2020

Are You A Preparer of the Way, or the Way?

2nd Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2020
Isaiah 40:1-5, Mark 1:1-8

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

Are you a preparer of the way, or are you the way? Now what do I mean by that question? In the context of the biblical narrative, we clearly understand the way as being the way of the God embodied in the life and ministry of Christ Jesus. And the preparer of the way was, therefore, John the Baptist.

Now, we’re not sure if he actually saw himself in such a way. It was commonly believed among Jews that the forerunner of the Messiah would be Elijah, considered Israel’s greatest prophet who did not experience death but was, instead, whirled away into heaven by a chariot of fire. An empty chair and cup are set at every Passover Seder for this revered prophet in the hope his coming. And it was said that he would be the one divinely designated to proclaim and prepare the way of the Messiah.

However, when John was asked by the religious leaders if he was the Prophet Elijah, he denied it, even though Jesus, according to Matthew’s Gospel, later acknowledged him as the prophet. (Matthew 17:11-13)

The fact is that when Jesus arrives upon the scene, John is already a popular and controversial figure regarded by many to be a prophet. (Matthew 14:5) Yet the followers of John, after the death of their leader, had to reconcile their differences with the one who would carry on after him. So, John, regardless of how he saw himself, became known as the one who assumed the role of Elijah to prepare the way of the Lord.

However, even Jesus, toward the end of his earthly ministry, informed is followers that those who believed in him would do greater works than his through the Spirit that would come after him and abide with them. (John 14:12, 17)

None of us is an endpoint. Each of us, in some way, points to something or someone greater than ourselves. As our parents and their ancestors strived for a way of life that would provide better conditions for those who came after them, do we not desire the same for those who come after us? Do we not hope that they will see us as the way they should follow until they are mature and informed enough to find their own way, and maybe even show us a better way?

Yet humility will often show us that some paths we are convinced to be correct will lead to a dead end, at which we must pray for the patience that enables us to double back and learn from our mistakes.

Too many times I have learned not to trust my GPS (Global Positioning System) as my Godly Personal Shepherd, for sometimes it may misunderstand my destination for another point of reference, or fail to note a construction site or detour that drastically alters my route and estimated time of arrival. That’s when I remember the psalmist who says it is better to place your trust in the Lord than in worldly guides. (118:8)

Christ has not abandoned us or left us orphaned to wander aimlessly. He remains the way, the truth, and the life by which we, like John the Baptist, might also become the voice of God in this worldly wilderness crying, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” (Mark 1:3) Amen.